Once again questions are being raised regarding the scrutiny under which Brent Council Planning Committee examines applications in the Alperton growth area, after the approval on August 9th of a development at 245-253 Ealing Road.
The site is formed of two small plots separated by a private laneway, one section a disused HSBC bank and the other formerly a pub called the Plough. As was the case with Minavil House in May, I was speaking on behalf of locals in opposition to the proposal. Neighbouring residents objected for a wide variety of reasons, and the planners at Brent Council conceded that the plans for the development, which will feature 92 flats in two towers over 9 and 10 stories, failed to meet a large number of planning regulations and considerations.
144 neighbouring windows failed light assessments, yet were deemed acceptable anyway. Some homes, between this scheme and the impact of 255 Ealing Road, are losing almost all of their direct sunlight. It was asked at the meeting of August 9th what the point of such assessments is, if even the worst affected windows are to be deemed “acceptable given the context”. The effect of the buildings’ imposing height is exacerbated by the fact that their positioning fails to meet standards – none of the nearby existing buildings is 20m away as recommended by the London Plan, and one building, the currently-under-construction 255 Ealing Road, is less than 10m away from the proposed towers, failing to even meet the less stringent 10m separation guideline required elsewhere.
Residents also raised concerns over the legality of access through private land to the new development. According to the submitted plans, the emergency exit at the rear of Block A of the building opens directly into garden beds owned and maintained by residents of the 243 Ealing Road development, though the plans incorrectly show this as being paved. The residential and commercial refuse stores on the side of the same block open facing a privately owned laneway connecting Hatton and Ealing Roads. The access to these stores along the side of the building is less than 100cm wide at its narrowest point, narrower than Brent Council’s 1100 litre bins.
Planners recommended in a supplementary report that access should be added into the refuse stores from the private laneway bisecting the site, ignoring the fact that it is privately owned and maintained by residents of the development next door. This was just one of many design flaws in the plan, including a wheelchair accessible unit included on the ninth floor of a building with just one lift, and the fact that, although obscured windows are planned for the rear of block A to avoid encroaching on privacy in neighbouring Braunston House, there are still balconies looking directly into nearby homes.
The mix of housing was another concern which failed tests. Just 16% of units are family sized, well short of the 25% requirement, and the affordable housing provision fails to meet expectations by some distance, at 26%. The density of surrounding schemes is 260 housing units/hectare, the maximum recommended in the London Plan. The scheme approved this week is 800 units/hectare. Planners said this is mitigated by the community space provided, a community space which less than a quarter of respondents in the public consultation said they wanted, and which is only 166sqm.
The current non-residential space provided on the site is 832sqm, so this “mitigation” actually represents a loss of over 80% plus added demand, while Alperton still has under half the open space of an average London ward. Saying that the density is similar to nearby developments ignores the fact that those developments included a significant provision of open space and retail units, which are still unused due to a lack of access.
This, like other developments nearby, is described as ‘car-free’ and provides 10 disabled spaces for accessible units, but no parking for the other 82 homes. The impact of this is estimated to be 66 additional cars parking in neighbouring streets, leading to an extension of the Controlled Parking Zone. There is a large provision for cycle parking, however the roads nearby are all marked red in the lowest category for cycle safety by TFL, and the only segregated cycle lane in the ward of Alperton, along the canal, is unlit and dangerous at night.
While the buildings are close to Alperton Station, TFL say Alperton ward has one of the lowest average PTAL (Public Transport Access) scores in all of Brent. Hundreds of new homes have been approved in the area without any plan for improved services, notably the 251 units in the controversial 26 storey Minavil House tower, approved in May despite widespread opposition and a limit of 17 storeys in the area’s Masterplan. According to an independent transport assessor the figures presented at the council for the transport impact of Minavil House nearby were out by a factor of 8. Once again, there was much debate at planning committee level regarding the quality of transport services in the area, particularly with regard to the accessibility of Alperton Station and the lack of night services. The state of medical services in the area, already severely stretched, was also raised.
The Plough Pub, which has been closed for over a year, was open until developers purchased the site. Cllr Mary Daly pursued the planning officers on the issue of the pub’s upkeep, and the fact that it was not advertised for lease for the statutory 24 months after closure. The building has been allowed to decay since its closure, according to residents.
Cllr Michael Maurice at one point of the meeting counted off 13 matters in which the proposal failed to meet guidelines and requirements.
The developers of the scheme failed to take into consideration the views put forward in the initial consultation. The design is seen by many as inappropriate for the site and lacks context, to the point that the area will become a patchwork of clashing styles. There are five unrelated styles of high rise architecture already approved or constructed, this adding yet another. The developer made no effort to gather views from residents until the week in the run up to the planning meeting, at which point it was much too late to make a difference. 42 addresses objected to the scheme, none responded in favour. Many also raised concerns as to the safety of residents during the construction phase, as the buildings occupy the entire site and will necessitate external building space, impacting on the ability of emergency services to access neighbouring homes.
"Are our councillors and planners here to enforce the laws and guidelines for local people,
or to make excuses and exceptions for private developers?”
When speaking at the meeting on behalf of objecting residents, I concluded by asking our representatives what their duty in the process is, in the their opinion: “This scheme fails light, massing, density, air, noise, access and other tests, yet is recommended for approval. Are our councillors and planners here to enforce the laws and guidelines for local people, or to make excuses and exceptions for private developers?”
The Planning Committee was split three votes to three, with Cllr Daly abstaining despite raising many concerns. At that point the chair, Cllr Agha, cast a deciding vote in favour of the development proceeding, and in doing so gave me an answer to my question. One wonders at this point just how many guidelines and regulations a developer would have to ignore for Brent Council Planning Committee to refuse them permission.